Peat deposits store more carbon than trees in forested peatlands of the boreal biome.
ABSTRACT: Peatlands are significant carbon (C) stores, playing a key role in nature-based climate change mitigation. While the effectiveness of non-forested peatlands as C reservoirs is increasingly recognized, the C sequestration function of forested peatlands remains poorly documented, despite their widespread distribution. Here, we evaluate the C sequestration potential of pristine boreal forested peatlands over both recent and millennial timescales. C stock estimates reveal that most of the carbon stored in these ecosystems is found in organic horizons (22.6-66.0 kg m-2), whereas tree C mass (2.8-5.7 kg m-2) decreases with thickening peat. For the first time, we compare the boreal C storage capacities of peat layers and tree biomass on the same timescale, showing that organic horizons (11.0-12.6 kg m-2) can store more carbon than tree aboveground and belowground biomass (2.8-5.7 kg m-2) even over a short time period (last 200 years). We also show that forested peatlands have similar recent rates of C accumulation to boreal non-forested peatlands but lower long-term rates, suggesting higher decay and more important peat layer combustion during fire events. Our findings highlight the significance of forested peatlands for C sequestration and suggest that greater consideration should be given to peat C stores in national greenhouse gas inventories and conservation policies.
Project description:Nitrogen (N) inputs from atmospheric deposition can increase soil organic carbon (SOC) storage in temperate and boreal forests, thereby mitigating the adverse effects of anthropogenic CO<sub>2</sub> emissions on global climate. However, direct evidence of N-induced SOC sequestration from low-dose, long-term N addition experiments (that is, addition of?<?50 kg N ha<sup>-1</sup> y<sup>-1</sup> for?>?10 years) is scarce worldwide and virtually absent for European temperate forests. Here, we examine how tree growth, fine roots, physicochemical soil properties as well as pools of SOC and soil total N responded to 20 years of regular, low-dose N addition in two European coniferous forests in Switzerland and Denmark. At the Swiss site, the addition of 22 kg N ha<sup>-1</sup> y<sup>-1</sup> (or 1.3 times throughfall deposition) stimulated tree growth, but decreased soil pH and exchangeable calcium. At the Danish site, the addition of 35 kg N ha<sup>-1</sup> y<sup>-1</sup> (1.5 times throughfall deposition) impaired tree growth, increased fine root biomass and led to an accumulation of N in several belowground pools. At both sites, elevated N inputs increased SOC pools in the moderately decomposed organic horizons, but decreased them in the mineral topsoil. Hence, long-term N addition led to a vertical redistribution of SOC pools, whereas overall SOC storage within 30 cm depth was unaffected. Our results imply that an N-induced shift of SOC from older, mineral-associated pools to younger, unprotected pools might foster the vulnerability of SOC in temperate coniferous forest soils.
Project description:Floating islands mysteriously moving around on lakes were described by several Latin authors almost two millennia ago. These fascinating ecosystems, known as free-floating mires, have been extensively investigated from ecological, hydrological and management points of view, but there have been no detailed studies of their rates of accumulation of organic matter (OM), organic carbon (OC) and total nitrogen (TN). We have collected a peat core 4?m long from the free-floating island of Posta Fibreno, a relic mire in Central Italy. This is the thickest accumulation of peat ever found in a free-floating mire, yet it has formed during the past seven centuries and represents the greatest accumulation rates, at both decadal and centennial timescale, of OM (0.63 vs. 0.37?kg/m<sup>2</sup>/yr), OC (0.28 vs. 0.18?kg/m<sup>2</sup>/yr) and TN (3.7 vs. 6.1?g/m<sup>2</sup>/yr) ever reported for coeval peatlands. The anomalously high accretion rates, obtained using <sup>14</sup>C age dating, were confirmed using <sup>210</sup>Pb and <sup>137</sup>Cs: these show that the top 2?m of Sphagnum-peat has accumulated in only ~100 years. As an environmental archive, Posta Fibreno offers a temporal resolution which is 10x greater than any terrestrial peat bog, and promises to provide new insight into environmental changes occurring during the Anthropocene.
Project description:Peatlands represent large terrestrial carbon banks. Given that most peat accumulates in boreal regions, where low temperatures and water saturation preserve organic matter, the existence of peat in (sub)tropical regions remains enigmatic. Here we examined peat and plant chemistry across a latitudinal transect from the Arctic to the tropics. Near-surface low-latitude peat has lower carbohydrate and greater aromatic content than near-surface high-latitude peat, creating a reduced oxidation state and resulting recalcitrance. This recalcitrance allows peat to persist in the (sub)tropics despite warm temperatures. Because we observed similar declines in carbohydrate content with depth in high-latitude peat, our data explain recent field-scale deep peat warming experiments in which catotelm (deeper) peat remained stable despite temperature increases up to 9?°C. We suggest that high-latitude deep peat reservoirs may be stabilized in the face of climate change by their ultimately lower carbohydrate and higher aromatic composition, similar to tropical peats.
Project description:Northern peatlands can emit large amounts of carbon and harmful smoke pollution during a wildfire. Of particular concern are drained and mined peatlands, where management practices destabilize an array of ecohydrological feedbacks, moss traits and peat properties that moderate water and carbon losses in natural peatlands. Our results demonstrate that drained and mined peatlands in Canada and northern Europe can experience catastrophic deep burns (>200?t C ha(-1) emitted) under current weather conditions. Furthermore, climate change will cause greater water losses in these peatlands and subject even deeper peat layers to wildfire combustion. However, the rewetting of drained peatlands and the restoration of mined peatlands can effectively lower the risk of these deep burns, especially if a new peat moss layer successfully establishes and raises peat moisture content. We argue that restoration efforts are a necessary measure to mitigate the risk of carbon loss in managed peatlands under climate change.
Project description:Peatlands are a major source of methylmercury that contaminates downstream aquatic food webs. The large store of mercury (Hg) in peatlands could be a source of Hg for over a century even if deposition is dramatically reduced. However, the reliability of Hg mass balances can be questioned due to missing long-term land-atmosphere flux measurements. We used a novel micrometeorological system for continuous measurement of Hg peatland-atmosphere exchange to derive the first annual Hg budget for a peatland. The evasion of Hg (9.4?µg?m-2 yr-1) over the course of a year was seven times greater than stream Hg export, and over two times greater than wet bulk deposition to the boreal peatland. Measurements of dissolved gaseous Hg in the peat pore water also indicate Hg evasion. The net efflux may result from recent declines in atmospheric Hg concentrations that have turned the peatland from a net sink into a source of atmospheric Hg. This net Hg loss suggests that open boreal peatlands and downstream ecosystems can recover more rapidly from past atmospheric Hg deposition than previously assumed. This has important implications for future levels of methylmercury in boreal freshwater fish and the estimation of historical Hg accumulation rates from peat profiles.
Project description:Peatlands perform important ecosystem functions, such as carbon storage and nutrient retention, which are affected, among other factors, by vegetation and peat decomposition. The availability of silicon (Si) in peatlands differs strongly, ranging from <1 to >25?mg?L<sup>-1</sup>. Since decomposition of organic material was recently shown to be accelerated by Si, the aim of this study was to examine how Si influences decomposition of carbon and nutrient and toxicant mobilization in peatlands. We selected a fen site in Northern Bavaria with naturally bioavailable Si pore water concentrations of 5?mg/L and conducted a Si addition experiment. At a fourfold higher Si availability, dissolved organic carbon, carbon dioxide, and methane concentrations increased significantly. Furthermore, dissolved nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, manganese, cobalt, zinc, and arsenic concentrations were significantly higher under high Si availability. This enhanced mobilization may result from Si competing for binding sites but also from stronger reducing conditions, caused by accelerated respiration. The stronger reducing conditions also increased reduction of arsenate to arsenite and thus the mobility of this toxicant. Hence, higher Si availability is suggested to decrease carbon storage and increase nutrient and toxicant mobility in peatland ecosystems.
Project description:The upcoming global mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries should include and prioritize tropical peatlands. Forested tropical peatlands in Southeast Asia are rapidly being converted into production systems by introducing perennial crops for lucrative agribusiness, such as oil-palm and pulpwood plantations, causing large greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Guidelines for GHG Inventory on Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Uses provide an adequate framework for emissions inventories in these ecosystems; however, specific emission factors are needed for more accurate and cost-effective monitoring. The emissions are governed by complex biophysical processes, such as peat decomposition and compaction, nutrient availability, soil water content, and water table level, all of which are affected by management practices. We estimate that total carbon loss from converting peat swamp forests into oil palm is 59.4 ± 10.2 Mg of CO(2) per hectare per year during the first 25 y after land-use cover change, of which 61.6% arise from the peat. Of the total amount (1,486 ± 183 Mg of CO(2) per hectare over 25 y), 25% are released immediately from land-clearing fire. In order to maintain high palm-oil production, nitrogen inputs through fertilizer are needed and the magnitude of the resulting increased N(2)O emissions compared to CO(2) losses remains unclear.
Project description:Peatland ecosystem services include drinking water provision, flood mitigation, habitat provision and carbon sequestration. Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) removal is a key treatment process for the supply of potable water downstream from peat-dominated catchments. A transition from peat-forming Sphagnum moss to vascular plants has been observed in peatlands degraded by (a) land management, (b) atmospheric deposition and (c) climate change. Here within we show that the presence of vascular plants with higher annual above-ground biomass production leads to a seasonal addition of labile plant material into the peatland ecosystem as litter recalcitrance is lower. The net effect will be a smaller litter carbon pool due to higher rates of decomposition, and a greater seasonal pattern of DOC flux. Conventional water treatment involving coagulation-flocculation-sedimentation may be impeded by vascular plant-derived DOC. It has been shown that vascular plant-derived DOC is more difficult to remove via these methods than DOC derived from Sphagnum, whilst also being less susceptible to microbial mineralisation before reaching the treatment works. These results provide evidence that practices aimed at re-establishing Sphagnum moss on degraded peatlands could reduce costs and improve efficacy at water treatment works, offering an alternative to 'end-of-pipe' solutions through management of ecosystem service provision.
Project description:Glacial-interglacial variations in CO2 and methane in polar ice cores have been attributed, in part, to changes in global wetland extent, but the wetland distribution before the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, 21 ka to 18 ka) remains virtually unknown. We present a study of global peatland extent and carbon (C) stocks through the last glacial cycle (130 ka to present) using a newly compiled database of 1,063 detailed stratigraphic records of peat deposits buried by mineral sediments, as well as a global peatland model. Quantitative agreement between modeling and observations shows extensive peat accumulation before the LGM in northern latitudes (>40°N), particularly during warmer periods including the last interglacial (130 ka to 116 ka, MIS 5e) and the interstadial (57 ka to 29 ka, MIS 3). During cooling periods of glacial advance and permafrost formation, the burial of northern peatlands by glaciers and mineral sediments decreased active peatland extent, thickness, and modeled C stocks by 70 to 90% from warmer times. Tropical peatland extent and C stocks show little temporal variation throughout the study period. While the increased burial of northern peats was correlated with cooling periods, the burial of tropical peat was predominately driven by changes in sea level and regional hydrology. Peat burial by mineral sediments represents a mechanism for long-term terrestrial C storage in the Earth system. These results show that northern peatlands accumulate significant C stocks during warmer times, indicating their potential for C sequestration during the warming Anthropocene.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Natural wetlands can mitigate ongoing increases in atmospheric carbon by storing any net balance of organic carbon (peat) between plant production (carbon uptake) and microbial decomposition (carbon release). Efforts are ongoing to quantify peat carbon stored in global wetlands, with considerable focus given to boreal/subarctic peatlands and tropical peat swamps. Many wetlands in temperate latitudes have been transformed to anthropogenic landscapes, making it difficult to investigate their natural/historic carbon balance. The remaining temperate swamps and marshes are often treated as mineral soil wetlands and assumed to not accumulate peat. Southern Ontario in the Laurentian Great Lakes drainage basin was formerly a wetland-rich region that has undergone significant land use change since European settlement.<h4>Results</h4>This study uses southern Ontario as a case study to assess the degree to which temperate regions could have stored substantial carbon if it had not been for widespread anthropogenic land cover change. Here, we reconstruct the full extent and distribution of natural wetlands using two wetland maps, one for pre-settlement conditions (prior to 1850 CE) and the other for modern-day patterns of land use (2011 CE). We found that the pre-settlement wetland cover decreased by about 56% with the loss most significant for marshes as only 11% of predicted pre-settlement marshland area remains today. We estimate that pre-settlement wetlands held up to ~?3.3 Pg of carbon relative to ~?1.3 Pg for present-day (total across all wetland classes).<h4>Conclusions</h4>By not considering the recent carbon loss of temperate wetlands, we may be underestimating the wetland carbon sink in the pre-industrial carbon cycle. Future work is needed to better track the conversion of natural wetlands globally and the associated carbon stock change.